I was until recently a stranger to fear. I consider myself a little adventurous, happy to err outside my comfort zone. Whilst not a major fan of white-knuckle adventure rides, waterparks or fancy dress parties, nevertheless I have, on occasion, been in hairy situations, mixed with scary people, hosted parties for my teenagers.
Yes, on balance, I’d say I’m fairly happy to walk on the wild side.
Therefore living with constant fear for the past few months has been a steep learning curve.
First I was afraid of the breast lump my doctor found – it moves, that’s a good sign, she said
Then I was afraid that it might be cancer – 50:50 chance, she said
Then I was afraid of waiting for the biopsy results – it’s going to be cancer, it can’t possibly be, I thought
Then I was afraid of the diagnosis – tell me very fast, then tell me very slowly, I said
Then I was afraid of how I was going to tell the children and how they would react and how it would ruin their lives – it’s a lump, it’s only tiny, I’m going to be fine, I said
Then I was afraid of telling anyone else – it’s a lump, it’s only tiny, I’m going to be fine, I said
Then I was afraid of chemotherapy – on the list of things I never wish to experience this is up there at the top, I thought
Then I was afraid of cutting my long hair – it defines me, I’ll be devastated, I said
Then I was afraid of losing my short hair – I don’t want to be bald, I said
Actually I’m still afraid of losing my hair, and it’s starting to moult – think of a soft paint brush when it loses its bristles – that’s what it’s like – a gentle and slowish shed on a fairly relentless course throughout the day and night. Itchy, annoying and vile. I wake several times a night to check my pillow. And whilst I’ve been comparatively side-effect free so far on the chemo front – this one is remarkably unpleasant.
When it’s gone, I might stop feeling afraid. Except as fast as one fear is overcome another seems jump into its place on The Things I Am Afraid Of List.
- Harping back to hair – until it’s gone it should be washed, yet if I do, it’ll all come out. At once. I think most of it is currently just perching on my head which has taken on Velcro-like qualities. How long is considered revolting not to wash it? I just don’t want to watch it all go down the plug hole or finally see my scalp. Very scared about this one.
- Will the chemo work (because I’m so unique) and what if it doesn’t?
- What if they’ve not have found all the lumps despite their state of the art equipment and top medical experts reiterating to the contrary.
- After all the treatment what if I have to go through this again next year, next decade….?
- What if…? Stuff I cannot voice.
But, oh my goodness. It. Is. So. Boring. Obsessing about one’s health. Feeling afraid and anxious all the time. The fear stems from not knowing. And waiting until you know is so time-consuming. And you think to yourself, I’ll imagine the worst-case scenario, because then I can anticipate how I’ll feel and anything else will be better. Only that’s stupid because you’re not only wasting time, but also energy on a hypothetical situation that might not arise and you’re scaring yourself needlessly. And, the rare occasion you don’t feel afraid, it’s so unusual and so startling that you catch yourself thinking ‘I haven’t felt terrified for half an hour’ which causes the calm to slope guiltily away and make way for oppressive angst.
Mindfulness, stay in the moment, br-e-a-th-e, work well if you can stop hyperventilating and still your mind. Walking long distances is effective. Especially when the lungs work to full capacity.
‘You have nothing to fear but fear itself,’ I intone to myself, maturely.
But…nah, it’s all bollocks! I do have something else to fear, and it’s not fear. It’s the wigs.
The Wigs: biding their time, curled up like ferrets, under the dressing table in the corner of the bedroom. Three of them; each shade of my hair when, back in the day, it was having a long and lovely ombré moment. I’ve tried them on, grudgingly. It’s not their fault. They’re glossy and nice, not too fake-looking and make me look rather well-groomed. One even has an Uma Thurman/Pulp Fiction vibe, for when I’m feeling very, very brave. But there’s a logistical issue I’ve yet to overcome.
Forgive me if you already know the mechanics of a wig, but for those who are still in the dark – and long may that last – they are a bit like H&M trousers for kids. They have two elastic bits that you could either wear tied under your chin like a bonnet (and wouldn’t that be practical?), or if you’re done with messing around, you can pull them tighter and fasten to fit your particular size (head or waist, depends on whether we’re talking wig or trousers). Unlike H&M kids’ trousers they do not fasten with a button to a waistband. They fasten on both sides, with what I can only describe as a plastic bikini hook, into a looped ribbon band reminiscent of sanitary towel fastening loops, circa 1940. (I love social history).
A brilliant, revolutionary design by someone who never thought to test it out on a live head. Plastic bikini hooks into sanitary towel loops inside a wig. A great idea. An inspired concept. Highly effective on bikinis and sanitary towels. Not so good in wigs. Plastic fasteners (apart from the hook bit) are flat. Heads are curved. Press one against the other and…
Well, the third or fourth time I tried the wigs, (in the privacy of my room, just for a few minutes, no wild Uma-and-John dance moves or gale force winds) one plastic fastener in each wig snapped in half and flew onto the floor. Funny, were this not my life. Plastic bikini fasteners shooting out your wig, in pieces, across the room. Oh how I laughed. Until it dawned on me that now, not only do I have to overcome my dislike of the ferret wigs, the embarrassment of wearing them, the strangeness of looking well-groomed with shiny fake long hair, but I also have to concern myself with the very real problem of either stabbing myself in the (bald or patchy) head with the safety pins I’ll resort to using – just as a stop-gap of course – to fasten the elastic to the loops, or, when that goes pear-shaped, of wearing a wig that’s a bit loose.
So, if you see an Uma-look-alike growling ‘Mia Wallace’ seductively at the baby ducks in the park, walking so slowly as to suggest cognitive decline, with well-groomed immaculate, shiny, long hair tipped nonchalantly at an angle over one eye, don’t be afraid, it’ll just be me.